Film Review: PUZZLE (USA 2018) ***1/2

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Agnes, taken for granted as a suburban mother, discovers a passion for solving jigsaw puzzles which unexpectedly draws her into a new world – where her life unfolds in ways she could never have imagined.


Marc Turtletaub


Polly Mann (screenplay by), Oren Moverman (screenplay by) | 1 more credit »


As PUZZLE opens audiences to the world of jigsaw puzzles, PUZZLE opens the world of taken-for-granted housewife, (I work at home too, she says), Agnes (the wonderful also under-utilized Scottish born Kelly Macdonald) into a world of self discovery.

It all begins at her birthday party where husband Louie (David Denman) breaks a plate that she glues the pieces back together.  She is given a 1000-piece jigsaw puzzle which she puts together again and again.  She discovers this hidden passion and leaves the house in Bridgeport, Connecticut to buy another where she learns that a mother puzzle solver wants a partner for a competition.  She travels twice a week without her family knowing to Manhattan where she meets Robert (Irrfan Khan), a wealthy recluse and together put together jigsaw puzzles in record time.  

At the same time, Agnes finds her life unfolding in ways she could never have imagined.

Director Turtletaub directs this delicate tale of a housewife’s self-discovery from a script by Oren Moverman and Polly Man based on the Argentine movie Rompecabezas by Natalia Smirnoff.  The film is dedicated to Turtletaub’s mother who we would think would also have been an under-appreciated mother.

Turtletaub’s only other directorial feature was GODS BEHAVING BADLY, a flop with negative reviews.  PUZZLE proves his worth given a second chance.  He is described to shoot with only a few takes allowing the actors to deliver their own interpretation of their roles allowing the film to be fresh.  True to what have been described, the performances are honest, fresh and occasionally powerful.  Macdonald (GOSFOD PARK), always an excellent actress, discards her British/Scots accent for an American role.  Macdonald is the one reason to see this moving story.  She is perfect even in he looks for the role.  At times, looking like a simple housewife, she can also look radiant, especially in the scene where she lying on the grass, the camera right above her when she talks to Robert on her cell phone.  Of the supporting cast, the young unknown Bubba Weiler stands outs Agnes’ elder son, Ziggy who does not get accepted to college and is stuck in a dead end job he detests working for his father in the auto shop.

The film’s best scene has the two of them Agnes and Ziggy having a heart-to-heart talk one evening.  It is a candid one whee they share unexpectedly each other’s secrets.  The shocking question Ziggy asks his mother is why she has not left his father.

The film has a neat spill on coincidences.  Agnes believes that there is a reason things happen as in the train where “Ave Maria” is sung to the words, “Tea, Maria” uttered by Robert.  Robert on the other hand believe that these are are coincidences.  The metaphor of the jigsaw puzzle as life is therefore quite obvious.  The jigsaw is a puzzle where the wrong pieces can be put right whereas life’s puzzle might not be solved in the same manner, as the film proves.

As expected, the family eventually learns what Agnes is up to.  She gains her independence and there is a neat ending as to what on she eventually decides on doing.  A housewife’s fantasy that audiences can relate to, thanks to director Turtletuab 


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